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Laugh-O-Gram Studio

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Laugh o grams studios

The building in its present state

Laugh-O-Gram Studio 2004

Laugh-O-Gram Studio in 2004

Laugh-o-gram 2010

Laugh-O-Gram Studio in 2010

Whoopee-sketches-german

Laugh-O-Gram Studio was a film studio located on the second floor of the McConahay Building at 1127 East 31st in Kansas City, Missouri.

The studio played a role in the early years of animation: it was home to many of the pioneers of animation, brought there by Walt Disney, and is said by some to be the place to have provided Disney with the inspiration to create Mickey Mouse.

The studio building has fallen to ruin and efforts are being made to restore it by a non-profit group called "Thank You Walt Disney." The Disney family has promised $450,000 in matching funds for the restoration.[1] The exterior was restored and the building stabilized in 2009. Thank You Walt Disney is currently working to raise money to put a museum inside.

History

On May 23, 1922, Walt Disney with Ub Iwerks took the remaining assest from the defunct Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists and along with $15,000 raised from local investors merged them with Laugh-O-Grams. With the help of Frank Newmann, Disney signed a deal with Milton Feld to produce a 1 minute reel per week featuring local news and public-service curtain raisers. During this time Disney created an animated character called Professor Whosis who came on the screen in between public announcements to tell jokes to the audience. Professor Whosis proved so popular that Disney was soon asked to double his output to 2 weekly 1 minute reels. The succes of these 1 minute reels persuaded Ub Iwerks to quit his own job at the Kansas City Film Ad Company and join his old friend Disney at Laugh-O-Grams. They obtained a staff of animators by placing an ad in a local paper offering lessons to anyone wanting to learn the animation business. With everything in place they quickly set about produing their first "real" animated film. For their first film Disney chose to adapt "Little Red Riding Hood", as it was a story that was frequently read to him by his mother as a child. He filmed it using a single hand cranked camera. The film was of sufficient quality that Frank Newman was able to convince local investors to invest $15,000 in shares of Laugh-O-Grams. The money used to produce his follow up film"Puss in Boots". (A Brothers Grimm fairytail). Meanwhile Milton Felt sent out copies of Little Red Riding hood to all the national distributors, wich all turned him down. It was a relatively small and unknown none-theatrical company Pictoral Clubs, that offered $11,000 for six completed shorts. However Disney only received a $100 down payment befor Pictoral Clubs went bankrupt.

Among his employees were several pioneers of animation: Ub Iwerks, Hugh Harman, Rudolf Ising, Carmen Maxwell, and Friz Freleng.

The company had problems making ends meet: by the end of 1922, Disney was living in the office, taking baths once a week at Union Station.

Thomas McCrum, a Kansas City dentist saved him from total failure when he commissioned Disney for $500 for Tommy Tucker's Tooth,[2][3] a short subject showing the merits of brushing your teeth.[4]

After creating one last short, the live-action/animation Alice Comedies, the studio declared bankruptcy in July 1923. Disney then moved to Hollywood, California. Disney sold his movie camera, earning enough money for a one-way train ticket; he brought along an unfinished reel of Alice's Wonderland.

Inspiration for Mickey Mouse

Disney told interviewers later that he was inspired to draw Mickey by a tame mouse at his desk at Laugh-O-Gram Studio in Kansas City, Missouri.


"They used to fight for crumbs in my waste-basket when I worked alone late at night. I lifted them out and kept them in wire cages on my desk. I grew particularly fond of one brown house mouse. He was a timid little guy. By tapping him on the nose with my pencil, I trained him to run inside a black circle I drew on my drawing board. When I left Kansas to try my luck at Hollywood, I hated to leave him behind. So I carefully carried him to a backyard, making sure it was a nice neighborhood, and the tame little fellow scampered to freedom."[5]


In 1928 during a train trip to New York he showed the drawing to his wife Lillian Marie Bounds and said he was going to call it "Mortimer Mouse." She replied that the name sounded "too sissified" and suggested Mickey Mouse instead.[5]

Filmography

Of the original seven Laugh-O-Grams fairy tales, four were long known to have survived, and have been restored for DVD: Little Red Riding Hood (1922), The Four Musicians of Bremen (1922), Puss in Boots (1922), and Cinderella (1922). These shorts later became available on Blu-ray Disc as bonus features for Disney's Beauty and the Beast. Tommy Tucker's Tooth (1922), and Alice's Wonderland (1923) are also available on DVD, and Alice's Wonderland eventually became a bonus feature for the 60th Anniversary Blu-ray Edition of Alice in Wonderland. The original piece of filming/animation known as Newman Laugh-O-Grams (originally released theatrically on March 20, 1921[6]) is available on some DVDs too. Due to their date of publication, all 10 shorts produced by the studio have fallen in the public domain.

The missing fairy tale cartoons were Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack the Giant Killer, and Goldie Locks and the Three Bears (all 1922). On October 14, 2010, animation historian David Gerstein announced that copies of all three had been found.[7][8] For many years the two Jack cartoons were believed to be one, until researcher John Kenworthy located old studio assets sheets confirming that they were separate shorts.[9]

Year Film Surviving Notes
1921 Newman Laugh-O-Grams Yes Old newsreel series that was only seen at Newman Theater, the only one surviving.
1922 Little Red Riding Hood Yes Walt Disney's first "real" cartoon. Briefly features Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "Grandma Steps Out."
1922 The Four Musicians of Bremen Yes Featuring Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Four Jazz Boys."
1922 Jack and the Beanstalk Yes Featuring Jack and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "On the Up and Up."
1922 Jack the Giant Killer Yes Featuring Jack, Susie, and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The K-O Kid."
1922 Goldie Locks and the Three Bears Yes Featuring Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Peroxide Kid."
1922 Puss in Boots Yes Featuring Jack, Susie, and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. The king in the cartoon also made a cameo in the 1922 Laugh-O-Gram Cinderella. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Cat's Whiskers."
1922 Cinderella Yes Featuring Susie (as Cinderella), Jack (as the Prince), and Julius the Cat, here unnamed. Later reissued with synchronized sound in 1929/30 as a "Whoopee Sketches" (USA) and "Peter the Puss" (UK) cartoon, retitled "The Slipper-y Kid."
1922 Tommy Tucker's Tooth Yes Mostly live-action
1923 Alice's Wonderland Yes Pilot film in Alice Comedies

References

  1. Thank You Walt Disney, a website about the studio and the drive to have it restored
  2. Entry for Tommy Tucker's Tooth from The Encyclopedia of Disney Animated Shorts, the detailed personal website of a Rhode Island-based fan of the films
  3. Tommy Tucker's Tooth at the Internet Movie Database
  4. Capturing the Disney Magic Every Day of Your Life by Pat Williams ISBN 0-7573-0231-9
  5. 5.0 5.1 Walt Disney: Conversations (Conversations With Comic Artists Series) by Kathy Merlock Jackson with Walt Disney " ISBN 1-57806-713-8 page 120
  6. Walt in Wonderland : the Silent Films of Walt Disney, Russell Merritt and J.B. Kaufman, page 125
  7. http://ramapithblog.blogspot.com/2010/10/lost-laugh-o-grams-foundand-shown.html
  8. http://www.cartoonbrew.com/classic/lost-disney-laugh-o-grams-at-moma.html?
  9. The Hand Behind the Mouse by John Kenworthy ISBN 978-0-7868-5320-5 page 18

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